The "Private Universe" video was very interesting, but not surprising I think that teachers assume a lot about what our students come to us already knowing, especially with the students in higher grades, but also at the elementary level as well. Some of the topics discussed, such as the seasons, are taught in elementary school, so it seems obvious that high school students would already understand the basic principles. I think science was an especially good topic to chose as a subject to discuss the idea of student understanding. When you think about it, a science teacher and/or curriculum is responsible for teaching a student about everything in the universe, plants, animals, anatomy, life, physics, motion, sound, rocks, astronomy, chemicals, etc... That is a heavy task to undertake, so it is not surprising that there are gaps in which the students insert their own ideas.
As teachers, we all know that students are curious and often "make up" their own ideas of how things work, at least this has been my experience. It really should not be shocking to see that these students made up their own ideas to explain these scientific theories, but it kind of is. I was shocked that the Harvard graduates couldn't answer the simple question of the seasons. (I was also feeling quite smart because I knew the correct explanation - thank you Mr. Pratt and 7th grade science!) It also left me thinking, if Harvard graduates struggle to overcome common misconceptions, how can I help my students overcome theirs?
As an elementary teacher myself, I often find that I make assumptions about what my students know or are capable of doing. For example, after 5 years of teaching, I still struggle with the idea that there are third graders that come to me that cannot write complete sentences (in the most basic sense - a subject, predicate, capitalized first word, and end punctuation). In third grade, we focus on forming paragraphs, writing complex sentences, and using more difficult punctuation. It baffles me each time when I have to reteach the idea that a sentence needs to have a noun and verb to be complete before being able to move onto to what I deem more age appropriate material.
Teaching and student learning should be driven by the idea that students need to have a deep understanding of the material, meaning we must sometimes correct misconceptions and build foundations before beginning our primary lesson. In addition to assessing student understanding before beginning, we as teachers also need to appeal to the ways that students learn. We need to make the learning hands on, as mentioned both in the video when the teacher discusses the girl using the objects to model the principle of lunar phases, and also in the reading when the author discusses examples of lessons used by teachers to illicit understanding in their students. Too often, students are not left to explore the content, they are simply expected to absorb whatever it is that the teacher feels is important. Teachers spend too much time "perfecting" their lecture and not enough time considering how to make students work through the content. I love the quote from the reading, "Teaching is less about what the teacher does than about what the teacher gets the students to do."(Perkins 1993) I think that at many times, teachers feel that if they aren't exhausted at the end of the day, then they aren't doing their job. I think the opposite is true and agree wholeheartedly with Perkins in this respect. I feel that as teachers, we need to be sure the students are the ones doing the vast majority of work, not the other way around. We should be a facilitator of learning, not a dictator.
I'm Edie - wife, mom, instructional designer,online instructor, home renovator,
and lover of nature, travel, technology, and vintage campers!